The new zombie spin-off of THE WALKING DEAD premiered last night. The biggest draw here for Walker fans is the shift in setting. The new series rewinds back to the initial zombie outbreak, focusing its story on a fractured family dealing with the first days of the Apocalypse.
Fans of the original series should feel right at home here. The opening scene slowly built up suspense, cranking up the tension with each moment. We are introduced into this world as a young man, Nick, awakens in a church – a dilapidated junkie hot-zone. Once again, our introduction into the zombie apocalypse is focused on a character awaking to this strange new world. The original series had Rick Grimes awaking from a coma in a hospital, days into the zombie outbreak.
Our main character pieces together the fractured recollections of the night before. It seems like Nick had a good time, pumping drugs into his veins and sleeping with a young woman. He awakes alone and searches for her. As he descends the stairs from the church’s loft things get scary. Tension boils. The effective atmosphere haunts each step. He discovers a dead body, then he discovers his girl… eating the face off another dead body. Zombie time.
Of course, Nick has no idea what’s going on and takes off. The world outside the church seems normal. The infection hasn’t spread yet. Wham! He’s hit by a car and put into hospital. So begins our new adventure in the world of THE WALKING DEAD.
The rest of the episode is focused on establishing our characters. We meet the Nick’s family, consisting of his mother and daughter, and step-father. Cliff Curtis (ONCE WERE WARRIORS, TRAINING DAY) plays Nick’s step-dad, Travis, a teacher working at the same school as his wife, Madison, the guidance counselor. Appropriately enough, he gives a lecture regarding Jack London and his philosophies of man vs nature. Before the apocalyptic Call of the Wild, the series develops family life first.
It’s appropriate that we meet this family at home before the zombie shit hits the fan. In a suggestive reveal, Travis is introduced fixing the sink. Before long we learn he also has a son with another woman. In later episodes he will surely want to reunite with them.
First, the stage gets set as we see Madison (Kim Dickens, from DEADWOOD, SONS OF ANARCHY) in action. A teenager thinks something wicked this way comes. He’s been reading the internet rumours about a dangerous disease spreading rapidly. She tells him the internet is a bad source of information. If something was really wrong the authorities would warn everyone. Wouldn’t they?
We also learn that Madison is having trouble deciding what to do about her troubled son. She is hesitant to kick him out because of his addiction issues. This could foreshadow how she’ll treat people in the apocalypse.
We also meet her teenage daughter, Alicia. For now, she’s the least developed, but she has a nice sidestory regarding her boyfriend. They plan to meet at the beach, but he never shows. Maybe he ran into zombie trouble?
As far as family goes, there are already some interesting dynamics formed. Alicia acts tough, acts like she doesn’t care, but she’s there in the hospital waiting for her brother to recover.
Back to the son… Travis asks Nick what happened. Nick tells the truth, whispering in a creepy Sixth Sense sort of way, “She was eating them.” His family is obviously hesitant to believe him. They ask the doctor what drugs were in his system, hoping it was a hallucinogenic that caused him to see this supposed delusion and not insanity. By the end of the episode, they’ll have proof, but in the meantime it was quite compelling to watch the young man debate his own sanity. Frank Dillane’s impressive performance really helps us connect with Nick.
Travis continues to question his step-son, looking for plausible answers. He doesn’t know if what he says is true, but he is sure his step-son believes it’s true. Nick is so shaken he says he wants to “get clean.” Having heard this before, Travis replies, “You mean that?” Nick aims back a well-placed retort, “I always mean that.”
Eventually, Nick escapes the hospital and his parents search for him. They retrace his steps at the church, then get stuck in traffic on the highway. Choppers buzz the skies. Sirens blare around them. Police block an exit. Gunshots are fired. This is the calm before the storm… the world’s about to get a whole lot worse. Travis, believing what his step-son said more and more, turns around.
The final sequence involves the step-son convincing his parents of zombies. Let’s just say he’s got some startling evidence. The episode ends with a terrifying and intense sequence that will not be spoiled here. Tune in to the spin-off, especially if you’re a fan of the original series. This looks to frame our world in a different context.
Did you catch any hints as to what caused the zombie virus? There were several mentions of flu shots which may be a red herring ruse. Perhaps, it is rather purposeful that the first zombie we see is an intravenous drug user. Maybe the virus evolves over time, but begins as a blood born pathogen? Are flu shot people already infected? Or is this virus already airborne and everyone is already infected?
The series may not fill in any blanks as to the origins of the virus. So don’t hold your breath. FEAR THE WALKING DEAD was so interesting because we see how characters deal with the initial idea that zombies are real. In the upcoming episodes we’ll see how society crumbles and how survivors were formed from Day One. This limited series should be thoroughly exciting for TWD fans, but also makes a great jumping in point for new viewers.
Stay tuned for next episode’s review coming soon.
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